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Mr. Mayor gets a warm reaction from developer crowd

February 22nd, 2009 · 10 Comments

Sorry, it’s taken me a while to get this up (I’ll spare you the details why), but I promised in my Twitter tweet to provide more details on Gregor Robertson’s speech to the Urban Development Institute, aka the developer crowd, Friday.

To tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It sounded like some of the the standard stuff to me — we’re going to listen to you, we’ve heard your concerns, we realize that when your business does well the city benefits, blah blah blah.

It also seemed like there were some definite hints about a few critical things. One, that this administration is going to re-visit the recent push to preserve the central business district for office only (recent sign of that was the last-minute decision to pull the Metro Core jobs report last week, a report that has been focused on the need for office and jobs space). That’ll be a big disappointment to the other business camp in down, the Vancouver Board of Trade, which has been fighting the good fight for two decades now to preserve the CBD and more as an office-only area, hoping always that Vancouver will someday turn into a head-office town with clusters of towers filled with guys in suits. Interesting Point Two in the speech, that the quiet arm-wrestling to get amenities from developers, something that the Larry Beasley planning administration perfected, is going to be radically modified. In spite of that, I wasn’t sure what developers would make of these hints.

But afterward, they were almost gushing about the speech and saw it as a definite signal to staff that things were going to be different. Some of them, and I believe I have the right word here, “chortled.” I had to hang around and wait for the mayor to grab a quote on credit ratings, so I stayed until the bitter end, which meant I got to see the long line of people who waited to talk to him afterwards, another sign of something or another.

So what did he say? I won’t quote the whole speech, but here are the relevant bits:

“Well, today, I’m here to say that I believe housing and development in Vancouver is where strategies for recovery should and must begin. We were the last to be impacted by the global downturn and with our wits and determination we can be the first to rise back up.

“I want to make my commitment to you very clear: City Hall wants to be an active, strategic partner with the business sector in the economic solutions ahead. Social and environmental sustainability must be the core values. And innovation and creativity must be the drivers.

“The relationship between City Hall and the development community has been strained over the last few years. There’s been a need for greater clarity of shared purpose, an understanding that we’re all in this together. As well our partnership has been strained because, for various reasons, the City has not been as responsive as any of us would have liked.

“But I’m here today to say it’s time to put our community-building partnership back on an equal footing. To say that leadership is back at City Hall, and that my Council and staff are motivated to get to work.

“It starts with a City Hall that listens. I’ve been listening to your suggestions. I had no idea so many of you LOVE the idea of a speculator tax! At least, I think that’s what you said. (For the uninitiated, that’s a joke. GR floated that idea during the election campaign and took more of a drubbing on that than any other topic except his TransLink fine.)

“Seriously, here’s what I’ve been hearing from you during these last 10 weeks.

(stuff about how they build they cities we live in and account for $25 billion of business in B.C.)

“But I’m also hearing that our partnership in community building is at risk, that the financing you need is increasingly hard to find, and that controlling the cost of doing business is increasingly critical to your success.

“I’m hearing that we need to cooperate and innovate to build sustainable, moe affordable communities in a global recession and that we need to have a meaningful dialogue about costs, charges, requirements and approval processes in order to make that viable.

“I’m hearing that the city’s development process needs to be more transparent, that negotiating with developers to provide community amenities has worked well in a rising market, but not so well in a falling market, when we’re all trying to re-establish positive momentum.

“I’m hearing that a renewed, clearer but also more flexible framework for development permit approvals will speed the process of building affordable and rental housing, that greater transparency and pro form certainty will bring clear expectations to our renewed community-building partnership.

“And I’m also hearing that commercial and working space is vital to our city, but that we shouldn’t lose the opportunity to develop residential housing close to where we work. And we also need to ensure significant and varied opportunities for residential housing across the city.

“This new council and will consider new mixes of uses, the inclusion of different types of housing in the same building, innovative office and residential mixes, and strategic zoning along our transit corridors. We want to look at incentives and the removal of barriers for rental and affordable housing and we want to protect the thousands of jobs your industry generates and supports throughout Vancouver.”

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